Friday, June 24, 2011

Denial Ain't Just A River In Egypt - Part 2

Today's topic may be one of the more subtle - but infinitely more damaging - elements in a spiritually abusive system.

Warning sign #3: Unspoken Rules
”In abusive spiritual systems, people’s lives are controlled from the outside in by rules, spoken and unspoken. Unspoken rules are those that govern unhealthy churches or families but are not said out loud.” – p. 67
Many Fundamentalist systems have plenty of spoken rules; so many that you wouldn’t think there could possibly be any unspoken ones as well. But oh, there are.

A few examples of unspoken rules:
"If I am spiritual enough, things won’t affect me emotionally."
"I can never say no to those in religious authority."
"Talking about problems will make God 'look bad'."
"Unity means agreeing about everything." – p. 59
That first one is a bugaboo. I used to think that if I were spiritual enough, i would never be angry or sad or depressed or discouraged. And when I had those feelings, I thought I was in sin. We Fundamentalists treat each other that way too - if someone is sad or depressed, rather than "weeping with those who weep", we throw a Bible verse or an unhelpful aphorism at them to help them stop having that emotion and therefore become more spiritual. It's very unhealthy.

”In spiritually abusive families and churches, where people insist that they stand on the authority of Scripture, not even Scripture is as powerful as the unwritten rule.” - p. 67-68
A powerfully damning statement.

”The most powerful of all the spoken rules in the abusive system is […] the ‘can’t-talk’ rule. The ‘can’t-talk’ has this thinking behind it: ‘The real problem cannot be exposed because then it would have to be dealt with and things would have to change; so it must be protected behind walls of slience (neglect) or by assault (legalistic attack). If you speak about the problem out loud, you are the problem. In some way you must be silenced or eliminated.” - p.68
Making the speaker the problem is a very effective and easy way to deflect criticism. I can’t count the number of times that I identified a problem, came up with a solution, and on bringing it to my quasi-superior’s attention was turned on as being the problem instead. For example, I realized I wasn’t being given the appropriate tools to perform my job adequately, so I asked for them to be provided. I was told (quote), “This is the mission field, deary, get used to it,” and it was implied that I was being selfish and high-maintenance. So, I went and bought what I needed myself. Then I was told, “That’s not the way we do things around here, you can’t just do that,” and was then implied that I was naive, bumbling and somewhat rebellious. From then on, I just bought what I needed and told no one. Which was, frankly, the wrong answer. I enabled the system by doing that. I should have confronted the hidden messages and double-speak. I don't think I was healthy enough at the time to do so, however.

"The truth is, when people talk about problems out loud they don’t cause them, they simply expose them." - p.68
Say this to yourself 10 times a day if you have to. It’s key to breaking the cycle of submitting to the “don’t talk” rule.

”Because people feel they cannot talk about an unspoken rule, they learn to talk in ‘code’ to convey what they mean.” – p. 57
I wish he went more into what “talking in code” meant in this book like he does in his other excellent book “Tired of Trying to Measure Up”, so I’ll quote from that book instead.
”It very swiftly becomes clear [in a shame-based or spiritually abusive system] that needs, honest feelings, questions and opinions that differ are not okay. Therefore, people have to learn to get what they need or let out what’s inside by putting it in code. Saying things straight gets you labeled as the problem.

In shame-based families and churches, members have invisible code books that they carry in their heads, though most of them are unaware they are doing so. The code book is an absolute essential if you are to survive in a shame-based system. It helps you to code things you want to say to others with the least amount of waves possible. It helps you to understand what others are saying so you can use the necessary, shame-avoiding behavior. It teaches you very unhealthy communication patterns.” - Tired of Trying to Measure Up, p. 55

Code means that when you try to communicate something, you either do your best to couch it in inoffensive terms or you say one thing but really mean something else that the other person has to pick up on. It is, at its core, dishonest. Now, I realize that we probably all talk in code at some point in our lives. Some of us grow up in families or systems where that’s all we learn to use; in others it’s rarer. But if it characterizes the majority of interactions in a system, that system is manipulative and abusive.

”If noticing problems is labeled disloyalty, lack of submission, divisiveness, and a challenge to authority, then there is only a fa├žade of peace and unity. It is impossible for wounds to be healed, and abuse will one day escalate.” – p. 69
Can't say it any better. If you have identified a problem in your Fundamentalist system and the above paragraph was the result, YOU ARE IN AN ABUSIVE SITUATION AND NEED TO GET OUT.

Final post in the series coming soon.

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